Metairie, La. - Sean Payton and Drew Brees expressed disappointment in the team's missed opportunities and mistakes Sunday in a 35-17 victory over the Bills but after studying the film, coach Payton seemed more pleased with the effort.
The following are Payton's comments to the media, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:
Opening Statement: "(Today) We went through a regular schedule. The last two weeks, or the last two games, we kind of rotated what we've done. Today, we were in what would be a very normal schedule for us and that's players were in, we just finished meeting, they're in position meetings now, we're going to kind of finish up this game that we just played and begin looking at the Jets here before they leave this afternoon."
It was really your first chance to go against a read-option style offense. The players said the reason they had success on defense, they called it complementary football, guys doing their job and forcing the quarterback to keep the football.
"There's a handful of things. I thought guys up front did very well. I thought our tackles, particularly, did a good job. I think guys did play their assignment. It's one in which it requires discipline – if someone gets cut off of a gap or fails to get to their assignment it can really expose you. But I thought we did a good job. Overall, we held them to 88 yards (rushing) and they were a team, coming into that game, averaging a little over 144 yards. So it was one of the better rushing teams that we had gone against. I thought overall that was going to be important for us, especially knowing coming into the game it was something that they were going to want to do."
You said a game is never as good or as bad as you thought it was originally. Looking at the film today, did you think some of the mistakes were as bad as you thought (Sunday) afternoon after the game?
"No. You watch the tape and see some of the positives, and so it would be more that direction. There are still some penalties we have to get cleaned up. We recognize it's a good front that we played defensively for us. On offense, we played a good defensive front and had some holding calls. The penalties on Corey (White) are ones we've just got to look real close at. It's the first time he's been involved in the pressures where he's been in that position hitting the quarterback. And so, clean up some of that technique and yet, substitutionally, just a few of the elements – as a coach, you're searching for that game where you do a lot of things well. And I just felt like (Sunday) there were a number of things we could have done a lot better. Watching the tape, though, there were a lot of battles that we won. I thought our tackles played well. (Akiem) Hicks played well, I thought (David) Hawthorne did a good job (and) we had the interception by Keenan (Lewis). I thought we made some big plays. I thought Jimmy Graham, for the work week he had, handled it well. I think that Kenny Stills continues to really play well, at a high level, and really play at a consistent level where he's made some big plays for us. I thought Drew (Brees) was very sharp. Back to that subject, though, the turnovers all of a sudden can kind of mask some of the things that you want to get cleaned up. I thought they did yesterday."
Did Drew's game get lost, maybe, in the postgame conversation, five touchdown pases and looked really sharp?
"I don't think so. I think, at times, we can become accustomed to him playing well. But I think clearly – I know (yesterday) evening, they put on a feature about five-touchdown performances and how many (he has) in comparison to other great quarterbacks. But I don't think so. I think that each week, we're trying to put together and I think Drew even said it: There's some things that, as we play games of more importance, as we play potentially teams that are a little bit different, we're going to have to a little bit better, especially early on."
How much of a fine line is there between the wins and losses in this league? You mentioned trying to clean up certain aspects of the game, especially with the schedule stepping up in difficulty over the next few months.
"We try to avoid looking at four or five weeks ahead. But to your point, the wins and losses come in the last possession of games. Looking back at yesterday, there were four or five games that finished with some team or the other defending or attacking in the two-minute. It's been that case for us (against) Atlanta, it's been that case with us (against) Tampa, and it's been that case with us (against) New England. And so, here at 6-1, there are three or four of these games that are last possession games and that's pretty common in our league. So having the discipline and the understanding that you're going to have poise, you're not going to make the mistakes and it's not going to cost you, I think is important. So we make the corrections and the focus really shifts, after today, to squarely on one game. And it's playing New York on the road, a Jets team that is coming off a tough loss (Sunday) but a dangerous team, and a team that has won some big games already this year."
In regard to attention to detail, guys like (Ben) Grubbs and Zach (Strief) were talking about how they've got to do a better job of making sure Brees goes untouched. They know it can't be perfect but do you see the same thing, that he's been getting hit a little bit more this year?
"One of the thoughts was how much, from a protection standpoint – when we look at our man protections, our zone protections – how do we reduce the pressures or the hurries. We see that if he can operate in rhythm and he can operate with time, the success he can have. I think that quarterback pressure battle each week, we felt it was going to be important this game and we actually won that battle when we added up pressures and sacks on both sides of the ball. (Buffalo) was a team that is exceptional at getting to the quarterback, with some elite pass rushers and even the inside players were very good at hurries. We've got to be smart about what we're asking those guys to do up front and then also, just have a little bit of variety so that it's not a steady dose of one protection or the other."
What do you think of the defense holding six of seven teams under 20 points? Does that affect your play calling and give you more flexibility in that regard?
"Maybe as it pertains to fourth down. Maybe as it pertains to certain risks. I think that we try to take an aggressive approach, period. But the No. 1 goal defensively is to not allow points. There's a complementary part to that and we talked about how at the beginning of the year, for us to play good defense, offensively we have to do a better job of time of possession and third down (efficiency). I thought our third down numbers at the half (Sunday) offensively weren't good, then I thought in the second half they were much better and got us (close to) to 50 percent. Staying on the field, the fourth-quarter time of possession was important yesterday – I think it was nine (minutes) and something to four or five (minutes) and something – and for us to be able to keep opponents out of the end zone, force field goals and keep opponents to a low point total is important. I think that the scoring defensive statistic is something that, there's a lot that goes into it."
Was Jimmy Graham on a pitch count?
"I don't know if it was a pitch count, or as much of a play count. It was simply a green highlight through 38 different potential play opportunities. And if you looked at the chart, you'd say on third down, let's hypothetically say there were 16 different third-down plays – four or five in the third-and-2 to 3, four or five in the third-and-4 to 6. Of the total amount of third-down plays, that green line might have gone through maybe half of those plays that were applicable. Also, we wanted to make sure we weren't taking away from a lot of the timing and work that we had done with Ben (Watson) and Josh (Hill) and the other tight ends. So it was a matter of just taking a highlighter out and looking at plays that fit in third down, that fit in red zone, that fit in the running game or in the dropback or play-action passing game. On both sides of the call sheet, I would say there was probably about 40 highlighted plays, some of which were repeat, they showed up in third-down and was also a red zone play. The challenge was how's he going to feel, playing a couple of plays and then being out 10 plays, is there going to be any soreness. But this wasn't a swelling issue. I think it was a matter of, did he feel comfortable planting and jumping, stopping and starting. And he did. He did a very good job during the workout. Then, it was just sitting down and kind of going through these green, highlighted plays that we had done the night before. Then all of a sudden he's able to get in and play I think 18 snaps, but he had a couple of big plays for us and it worked out well."
For a guy like that to not practice Wednesday and Thursday and be limited on Friday was Friday an important day for him?
"Friday was important. I said that. I thought Friday was going to be important in the process. Typically, there aren't many players that don't practice Wednesday, Thursday or Friday at all, that play and have success playing on Sunday. There are a few that have. I thought Friday was going to be important and we saw something, he was able to get work in. I thought that was helpful. I felt all week long, his body language and his demeanor was where he felt he was going to be able to play. It wasn't as sore as he thought and it was getting better quickly each day, and that was encouraging. Because at the beginning of the week I think we took more of an approach skeptically. 'Let's just put this game plan together as if he weren't going to play, and it'll be much easier to for us to go back and take a highlight through some things we think he can help us,' rather than put the plan together with the idea that he's in and then he's not at the end. So we took that approach. I think the week was handled well by him, Scottie (Patton) and those guys from a treatment standpoint and I thought it worked out well."
Does a player like that lobby you to play?
"There wasn't much lobbying. It was really just making sure we understand, how is it? There was a lot of speculation, he could injure it further. It was really more about can he actually function and help and if he can, great. If he can't, we should wait. So I was encouraged."
Is there confidence that this is the kind of injury that will improve week to week?
"I think from a pain standpoint, my understanding is that it can begin to diminish. We're not going to sit here week to week discussing it, but I think it's something he'll be able to manage."
You look at the contributions you got from Kenny Stills, (Kenny) Vaccaro, (John) Jenkins, some of the other undrafted guys, did you expect this kind of contribution this quickly with your rookie class?
"It's hard to go into a season and say, hey, we expect "X" number of rookies to compete or to play in games. It's encouraging when you've got a good portion of them playing: Josh Hill, (Tim) Lelito, (Kevin) Reddick's playing a lot on special teams, Jenkins. There are times when that process for young players, especially, rookies, doesn't mean that first year. You hope it does and you're optimistic and you hope that they find a role. I think that so far this year we've been fortunate with this class that we've been able to receive some contributions out of a number of these guys early on."
How has Charles Brown done, and what does Cameron Jordan do that the fan doesn't see?
"Let's start with Cam. I think he's active. He can get on the edge of a player very fast. I think he's very athletic and so when the ball is snapped, he can get kind of get on the edge of an offensive lineman and beat him to a block. He's got very good stamina so he's in great shape, so the play you see in the first series, third play, is going to be very similar in regards to his effort level, his technique level, in the eighth series or the tenth series. He's in outstanding shape. He's smart, he works at it so he does a lot of those things well. Charles Brown has been healthy now. He's received and drawn some tough assignments. Yesterday we knew that Mario Williams was a guy that was going to end up on both of our tackles at some point in the game. We had the sack given up in the first series and after that we settled down. Still working to improve, not just him but the rest of the group from a consistency standpoint."
Were you happy with the rushing performance?
"Yes. Overall, we would have liked more attempts at it and some of those, we didn't get in the first half but overall we're making progress there."
Tulane qualified for a bowl with C.J. (Curtis Johnson). I don't know how much you've had a chance to talk with him or speak with him.
"I haven't had a chance to talk with C.J. lately but I rode in the elevator at the Westin (hotel) Saturday night. They won Saturday evening and there was a family with Tulane gear on in the elevator. We were heading to our meetings that began at 8 p.m. They were excited and they had said the same thing you just said, 'We're bowl eligible.' And I just remember hearing that, thinking, I don't know that C.J. has set his goals to just be bowl eligible. And I used that analogy a little bit yesterday in our locker room. I think it's great and yet, I think their goals and sights are much higher. It's good to see them playing well."
Do you see your numbers so far as exceptional in scoring defense, with the changes in the offseason in the defense?
"I would say definitely it's encouraging. We're playing better. I think the players are playing with more confidence. I'm not going to define, grade, use words like exceptional. I'm going to say week to week, we're encouraged and we feel like there are a number of things we feel we can do better. I think overall though, there's a real good complementary back and forth and I think our players understand when we say that. I don't know that many people understand that. There's a lot that goes into playing well on defense and playing well on offense and those categories that we talk about every week. Each week there's a different challenge. This week, we'll have one on the road."
With the trade deadline approaching on Tuesday, is that something you all will be taking a hard look at?